Exact Match Domains (EMD’s) have risen high and fallen low over the years. They were once the apple of every seo’s eye, but with the Google Exact Match Update in 2012, they have become far less attractive compared to Brandable Domains.
Exact Match Domains still have their place, even in 2015. And I’m going to tell you why in 4000 words.
What Are Exact Match Domains?
Exact Match Domains are domain names that match a search term one would type into a search engine exactly.
Here’s some made-up examples:
For quite a few keyword searches in Google Search, you’ll often turn up exact match domains as one of the results.
What’s the Deal in 2015 with EMD’s?
Well, the “deal” is, Joe, that Google no longer gives any significant weight to having the EMD as a ranking signal.
It used to be back in 2012, if you happened to have a keyword TLD (.com, .net, .org) that exactly matched the keyword entered into the google search box, you got a ranking boost for your site for that keyword right out of the gate.
This fact was not unknown to SEO and internet marketer types who games the shit out of this ‘loophole.’ I myself am fully guilty of this, having at one point between 300 and 400 Exact Match Domain niche websites (almost all of which are dust now due to ranking various penalties handed from Google over the years).
As of now, don’t register a domain name just because it’s an EMD. There are (now) no additional ranking benefits (or if there are, they are so slight it pretty much does not matter) to be had. You are better off looking at a Partial Match Domain (PMD) which sounds more brandable (and likely never been registered before, had a 3 page shitty mini site built on it, and spam links used to rank it like most exact match domains registered between 2008-2012) or just making a cool sounding brand name.
Now there still are a few benefits to be had from EMD’s and in some narrow cases, there’s nothing wrong with picking one up if it fits your purpose.
A Note About the New Domain Extensions
Also note that it’s now pretty much possible to register any exact domain name with all the new extensions out there (I even say .ninja recently!). Personally, I’m not a fan of most of the new extensions which are, frankly, just a money grab and more confusing than anything else.
Besides some potential branding opportunities some companies will go with (hug.me, photgraph.me, wedding.photography), I am not much impressed with these extensions. For the most part, I think the domain landscape will remain with .org, .net, and of course, the .com for a long while to come.
Ok, on with the article…
The Benefits of an Exact Match Domain
Yes, there are still a few. Not anything like they were, but in some cases they can add up big.
Keep in mind, principles of building a quality website absolutely apply. It’s the level of your content (killer content) and link outreach that is going to make or break your new website. But having an EDM with really awesome killer content and great links can push more traffic, higher CTR (both in the search engine and via paid ads like adwords), and more targeted backlinks over a more general (non EDM) domain name for the EMD keyword.
Note that I said ‘keyword’ here. You won’t get many of those benefits if people type a different keyword that’s not directly tied to your EMD name.
Your “Click” CTR is higher with Exact Match Domains
EMD’s bring other benefits to the table, other than just giving you better rankings.
Search Engine CTR is Higher
Many people don’t realize is that your search engine click CTR is actually higher with an EMD than with a non-EMD.
Why? There’s a strong psychological “trust” when you see an exact match domain for the keyword you type in. There have been a number of studies about this, but it seems people “like” to see EMD’s on the front page of SEARCH engines.
Think about it this way, if you are searching for “Piano Chairs” in google and see the following results:
What result can you be sure relates most closely to the term you just typed in?
If you guessed pianochairs.com, you get a gold star.
Even though Pianochairs.com might NOT be ranked number one (you’ll find it usually might be, however), it will have a higher click rate than if the domain was not the exact keyword. It’s quite possible to take a fair share of the search traffic even if your domain is ranked say #7-8 and NOT number 1, IF you’re domain is the only Exact Match Domain on the front page (and even more so if the keyword is not in the other domains).
The fact that by just having an EMD can mean you get more “traffic” to your site for the exact match keyword just based on the psychological factor is a huge boon. However, this won’t benefit you UNLESS you are ranking on the front page of the search engines for your EMD term. And the term needs some significant traffic or be the main keyword your website is targeting for this to really make a difference.
There is also another reason: the keywords in the EMD (which means the entire URL root itself) are bolded. You can see in the image below that Google bolds your target search keywords in the domain results. This helps to increase the CTR:
Now, I’m not talking out of my ass here. There have been a number of studies showing this is the case. You can read Microsoft’s research study here showing this is the case.
Pay Per Click Advertising CTR is Higher
This “higher click” phenomenon doesn’t just extend to the SERP’s but also to Google Adwords too.
You’ll have higher CTR on your ads if you have the EMD (your URL is more visible because it’s bolded for that term).
The higher CTR you get from PPC also means you Adwords gives you a higher quality score which means you get lower cost-per-click which can save you substantial amounts of money. There have been a number of studies showing this is the case.
So if your website is in a very narrow niche that’s perfectly captured by the EMD (think runningshoes.com or some other highly focused niche) and you do a lot of PPC advertising with say Adwords, you can save money and have a higher CTR to boot. Not a bad benefit at all. In my Brandable vs Keyword Domains article, I explain why this is the case in detail. But the short of it is that getting a higher CTR on your adwords ad improves your adwords quality score which gives you a lower Cost per Click (CPC) bid.
You Get Better Backlinks with Exact Match Domains
Quite often, people link to a website with the exact domain name. If your website is MyPianoStore.com, quite a few websites linking to your site will use “MyPianoStore” or “MyPianioStore.com.” If the term you are going after happens to be “Piano Chairs”, getting links with “MyPianoStore.com” won’t do too much to help you rank for “Piano Chairs.”
However, if you have “PianioChairs.org” then natural links to your site will likely contain “PianoChairs.org” as the anchor text which WILL help you rank for the money term — which is a big deal if that term IS the term that you really want to rank for.
You might not care about ranking for your exact keyword domain term if it’s a low traffic term. But if you happen to have an Exact Match Domain Keyword with a shitload of traffic to it, this is MONEY. Many of your “natural” links will be highly targeted ones, helping you to rank for that term, which has a lot of traffic.
This has NOT changed even in 2015. It was true in the early days of SEO and it’s still true now.
More Linkbuilding Leeway
You may be able to get away with faster link building if you have an exact match domain than if you don’t. The reason is that Search Engines have allowances for “viral links.” That is, it’s possible to get a ton of links in a short period of time without getting penalized. One way is to have a lot of backlinks already and plenty of AGE. Another way that I’ve found is to have an exact match domain.
When you think about how people link, it’s usually the website name, including the domain extension. A website or article on a site that goes viral tends to have a lot of links containing the exact domain name present. But you can replicate this somewhat if you have an exact keyword domain. Sending a lot of links with your exact keyword replicate the viral link building process.
Now by all means, I am not saying just because you have an EMD, you can go buck wild and spam it. Google handed out some serious penalties with their penguin updates that punished websites that had over optimized keyword anchortext links (which is almost always the case when people do manual link building tactics).
So don’t go all crazy with making every link contain your anchor text keyword — you’ll still get your ass whipped by Google with a penalty.
I’m just saying that you ‘gots’ more leeway.
Type-In Traffic for (killer) Category Killer .com Domain Names
In 2015, this is not that big of an issue. Most people type domain names without the extension and the browser will do a search for it and display the result.
The only case this makes a difference would be if you actually have a .com category domain name (insurance.com, loans.com, cars.com, candy.com, etc), you’ll likely get a steady stream of type in traffic.
Very few people have such domains and they usually cost five to seven figures.
There are some (older) instances where some guys make great money just parking a category killer domain name. I don’t know if that’s the case anymore though and I suspect it’s not.
I read a while back that the guy who owns CANDY.com reportedly made 300 bucks a day from just parking it (I note now that it’s now been developed into a real site now which I’m positive makes more now).
One issues I haven’t seen too many people bring up is the trust issue that a good keyword domain brings.
Now I throw this out there with a qualifier: you only get the “trust” if you’ve got a premium / category killer exact match domain, and usually only if it’s a one or two word url.
Sorry, if you happen to have “CheapCreditCardsforDirtCheap.com”, you don’t get the same “trust” benefits that a domain like “CreditCards.com would have.
What do I mean by TRUST here?
Well for one, people seem to be psychologically preferenced to click on Exact Match Domains for the keyword they typed in. I’ve discussed that above already.
However that ‘trust’ doesn’t just extend to garnering a higher CTR in the search results for that keyword.
It extends to your ability to network your domain effectively (i.e. Natural Outreach Link Building). Let me personally tell you, it’s FAR FAR easier to approach authoritative sites in your niche or in related niches if you’ve got a strong premium exact match domain.
If you have say StudentLoans.org, charity.org, basketball.com (assuming you’ve got a good looking site with lots of great content on the site of course) and approach some big sites about doing a guest post or link exchange or some sort of contest idea, the receiving webmaster will take your request FAR more seriously than if you approach them with a domain like “basketballmanonfire.org” or ‘loansforcheap’.
There’s an innate signal of quality to the shorter domain compared to the longer domain. In fact, if you’ve got a longer exact match domain, you’re site carries a bit of a spammy stigma — it makes doing manual linkbuildling much harder.
Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s so hard to get a premium exact match domain, that if you have one, it sets you up as a serious player in the niche, not some 15 year old living in his mom’s basement.
Whatever the reason, having a stellar category killing Exact Match Domain can do wonders for your link building efforts if you are willing to bust your ass a bit and outreach to other sites.
Now, I’m not saying that having a brandable sounding domain name or a decent Partial Match Domain will inder your outreach efforts. But there is something ‘WOW’ about seeing a category killer exact match domain that you know took some serious money or effort to acquire. Call it whatever you want, but this ‘trust effect’ is real.
I’ve also found that people are more likely to send you NATURAL links if you’ve got one of those category killer domain names (acne.org, skincare.com, travelguide.net, mortgagequotes.org, etc).
Provided your site has killer quality content (and no, tossing up a WordPress Blog on a premium theme does not count as a quality-looking site folks) and a professional layout, links can come in. Owning a category killing exact match domain myself, this has been my personal experience — some sites just naturally link to it without me doing anything.
The Downside of Exact Match Domains
EMD’s still in 2015 have a lot of benefits I feel, but there are also some serious negatives too.
Few EMD’s Left
Yes, I know you can make up some baloney EMD phrase and register it. But there are few if NO Exact Match Domains with 1,2,3 word phrases. And certainly, if you are looking to hand register an Exact Match Domain name for a keyword with good CPC and even a bit of monthly traffic (500+ exacts) , you can be sure that those domains have been snapped up already.
And, if there is an available EMD for a good keyword, you can bet your left kidney it’s probably been used and abused already by an internet market sometime in the past 10 years and it’s been released back into the wild for a very good reason: it no longer ranks in google because of all the penalty it now has.
If you don’t care about Google Search traffic and want to target social traffic, referral traffic, etc. Fine, go for it. But just be aware that there might be some Google penalties attached to that domain.
This has happened to me a number times — registering an EMD and finding out after 6 months to a year of not ranking for shit that there was a spam site or pre-existing penalty attached to the domain.
So at the very least, do some due diligence research on the history of your ‘new’ domain.
And with scarcity comes cost. Which brings us to this point: Good EMD’ Domains are Fucking Expensive
With the crash of EDM’s after the google update, the market value of domain names has deflated. But they still can cost, even now.
The better the EMD keyword, the more you are going to pay for it. If you want a decent two or 3 word EMD, you are probably going to pay anywhere from 200 dollars to 2000 for it. For really good keywords you may pay mid to high 4 figures or even 5+ figures.
Domainers like to call these “premium domains” and you find them on places like buydomains.com or sedo.com. If you want a category killing EMD, one that’s high traffic or a short tail, you may pay x,xxxx to xx,xxxx for one.
At this point, you are deciding whether you want to buy a new BMW or a domain name. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth it UNLESS you have a serious marketing budget and a real plan for that domain.
EMD’s Can Be Too Restrictive
Getting an EMD can pigeon hole you into a single very specific niche. This might make you ultra specialized in one niche — which might be a good thing — but there may be a cost.
What happens if real world events change the dynamics of your niche? I believe this happened with FreeCreditReport.com. The US government changed some legislation about the way “free credit reports” could be marketed online and suddenly FreeCreditReport.com was out on their ass because of that.Why? Because their domain name was too restrictive.
For some niches, you might not have to worry about this, but for other niches, the risk is there.
Think about Google or Yahoo. These are BRANDs but both are associated with Search. Who cares about SearchEngine.com these days? BRANDs can also be flexibly reinvented depending on the need. So a brand could be associated with search, but with marketing also be associated with cars (think Virgin in this instance).
Another example here would be Amazon.com, which initially was ONLY a book selling website. But they branched out into other niches and now are associated with anything and everything. This would not have been the case if Amazon.com was called ‘Books.com.’
If you have an great exact match domain and you are going into a market/niche where there is a clear market leader already — one that’s a brand — you are going to find it tough to compete. Again look at the search sphere. You are not going to be able to compete in the search market against well known branded names like Google and Yahoo with something like SearchEngine.com.
I will note here that Amazon.com owns Diapers.com — so even one of the most valuable brands in the world still keeps an exact match domain. For some niches that are very focused, an Exact Match Domain (like diapers.com) works perfectly.
Take for instance:
Get my point here?
The 2015 Seo blog / Internet Marketing rhetoric always spouts off that BRAND NAME domains are the best choice. But this is bullshit — EMD’s are just as good, or better, for specific business models.
You just need to know if it’s YOUR business model.
The brand versus keyword is an interesting issue, which brings us to the next section…
Exact Match Domains versus Branding
There’s a lot of hurrah on the web right now about the demise of Exact Match Domains. Most seo blogs will always tell you to go for a brandable domain.
Except it’s completely wrong.
A brand name is great IF you are going to be associated with a unique product, service, or company. Or you want to brand yourself. And this is all good.
But it takes more work usually. And it costs more money.
For very focused niches that are about one thing only, EMD’s can really shine.
Will Brand Take Over the Search?
It seems that way.
Brands tend to dominate a WIDE spectrum of results (Amazon dominating the product sphere, for example, Huffingtonpost the news sphere, etc).
This is only going to get worse, however. But the little guy can still compete in competitive niches with killer content with focused sites — especially with Exact Match Keyword Domains.
My feeling (and this has not changed even in 2015) is that EMD’s are still great for very focused niches that won’t expand. By setting up shop on a great EMD and by having killer content that addresses the needs of the searcher, and by doing some serious outreach in your niche for links, you can make yourself a “player” in that niche.
Not only do you reap the benefits of easier rankings an EMD can provide due to the targeted anchor natural links will tend to have, you get a passive boost in increased traffic through higher CTR, and you also set yourself as one of the dominate presences in the niche.
If the other EMD’s are locked up and you happen to be the only EMD in the search results, even better as your domain name stands out from the crowd of results.
I personally have built some of my best and most profitable websites on exact match domain names — and they still remain some of my best sites, even through all the various Google Updates. The fact that these sites have the exact domain has been a huge benefit. On the other hand, I’ve also bought EMD’s and they’ve failed completely. And I have Particle Match Domains that are doing fantastic.
So at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. An EMD can be a valuable advantage, but you have to know what you are getting and you have to take advantage of your EMD.
To REALLY take advantage of a good EMD, you need to:
Offer Compelling Killer Content (or content that is at least as good as the best sites in the niche)
Build Links (real ones from real related sites through networking and natural outreach)
“Brand” your EMD by using social media AND by connecting with your customers/readers (you need to BUILD an active online presence not just be passive one. The web is SOCIAL)
You can of course do the exact same process on a Partial Match Domain or Brandable Domain and get results, but the EMD gives you a small advantage in a narrow niche — but at the same time also locks you into that single niche.
Note, I completely updated and modernized this article. I previously wrote it for another site I had but abandoned in 2012 due to spamming the shit out of it with bad links and getting it destroyed by the Google penguin update. You can read the very different original article here: http://authorityincome.com/exact-match-domains-friend-or-foe/
BenK has been around blogging in the SEO/Internet Marketing sphere since 2010 when he quit his job to pursue a self employed career of making a crazy online income with the dream of doing absolutely nothing to make good money.However, he soon found that dream was a lie; making an online living took a lot of hard work -- more work than he spent at his 9 to 5.In the 5 years he's been an Internet Marketer, he's:*made a full time income at nearly 20k a month, lost it, then work his way back up
*been banned from adsense twice, regained it, then banned again
*had hundreds of sites deindexed
*rebuilt everything from scratch in two years
*moved to Thailand where he now lives on a beach, living off of websites and blogging about internet marketing the RIGHT way.AuthorityIncome.com is his new blog where he shares his strategies, thoughts, and opinions on making a LONG TERM income through websites.